Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley is expected to step up his return from injury in a behind-closed-doors-friendly on Thursday.
The Scotland international has not played since damaging an
ankle in pre-season but has been pencilled in to face a Middlesbrough XI at the Teesside club's Rockliffe Park training ground on Thursday afternoon.
Bardsley is understood to be several weeks ahead of schedule in his recovery after undergoing surgery to remove fragments of bone from his ankle.
Should he emerge unscathed from the run-out, he could be included as
an overage player in the U21 squad for Monday's game at Stoke.
Midfielder Craig Gardner has filled in for Bardsley at right-back but has proved an able deputy, helping Sunderland to an unbeaten start.